Jay Glass Dubs: ‘If my head were a city, the music would come from a distant building’
Dimitris Papadatos, aka Jay Glass Dubs, was born in the USA in 1981 and subsequently moved to Greece where he grew up. Through his work as a composer, musician and sound artist he has become a leader in experimental dub electronics and a core member of the Bokeh Versions squad. His work focuses primarily on spirituality and transformation and is an exercise in style focusing on a counter-factual historical approach to dub music, stripped down to its basic drum / bass / vox / effects form. Jay Glass Dubs is a prolific producer and has released a diverse and expansive body of work on such labels as Bokeh Versions, The Tapeworm, Anòmia, DFA Records, Ecstatic, and Berceuse Heroique. He has also collaborated on critically acclaimed releases with Not Waving (as Not Glass), Guerilla Toss and Leslie Winer and has released remixes for artists such as How To Dress Well, Jabu, Maximum Joy and others for labels such as Domino, Young Echo, ESP Institute and Smalltown Supersound. Dimitris’ work has been presented in various international institutions and festivals including Berlin Atonal, Meakusma Festival, Documenta14 and BBK Bilbao. He is playing at the upcoming Skanu Mežs festival in Riga in October.
You responded to my email about the interview early in the morning. Are you a morning person in general? What does your day look like? Do you have a routine for your music creation?
Yes, I definitely am. I have always had my studio in my home, apart from a very short period when I turned what is now my home into a studio, so I guess you could say the spaces where I live and work have always been intertwined. In order to not be lazy and procrastinate, I decided to approach studio time as proper office time. So, I wake up early, shower, get dressed as if I am going to work and start working from 9 am at the latest to 8 pm at the latest. “Working” doesn’t necessarily mean I am making music to be released. Practice, trying new things, writing, making a mix, doing admin work is all a part of it. Sometimes not working is a part of working, when I indulge myself in the pleasures of looking at a blank screen. I try to give creation sufficient time, so I never push things around in my head. I let it come when it does. As an artist, I believe inspiration should find you while you work, so to me it mostly happens amid experimentation or while a mundane process is taking place. Ideas are there for the taking, all the time and everywhere, if the eye and ear are vigilant.
You were born in 1981, seven years after the end of the rule of the far-right military junta. Has this influenced your childhood and cultural upbringing?
Growing up in Greece almost a decade after the change of government definitely influenced all my generation. I think the most apparent way that this change was manifested was through our parents’ lives. After the seven years of the junta, a sad outcome/remnant of the Greek Civil War which occurred right after the Nazi occupation of Greece, people were thirsty for freedom and political and social changes. The said civil war had divided the country into two opposing war camps, the left-wing partisans of the Communist Party that fought for freedom and the far-right guard dogs of the government aided by the UK and the USA. This division was and will always be a historical taboo for Greece.
In the early 80s, when PASOK, the new populist Socialist party that promised money and work and prosperity for everyone, became the leading political force, a big section of the left was absorbed by it and many of the most liberal right-wing voters also started to find fertile ground for their agenda.
All this political fermentation created a new human type, the ‘Neo Greek’, a formerly oppressed, poorly educated, politically fanatical, nouveau rich idiot type who would occupy the country for the next 30 years and change their guise according to each given situation, which led to an unprecedented volume of corruption that has affected my contemporaries and will affect generations to come. You could say that my generation grew up with this model as a prototype for success.
You could also say that my generation is therefore doomed. It’s sad and scary. What’s even more sad and scary is the fact that all this constant rearrangement of power had the opposite effect of what it should have.
Of course, there are many voices of social and political opposition to this mess, voices that support equality, solidarity and social justice, but there is sadly also a huge part of the population that has been brainwashed by the media and by far-right political groups and has developed hatred, nationalistic views and an immense fear of the ‘other’. Dreaming of being an artist in this situation can be frustrating and disheartening, but of course in every teenager’s life something happens that changes everything. For me it was definitely punk rock that made me see other ways and changed my life completely.
Apparently, you have a large music collection of laïkó, a Greek music style that draws from traditional songs and was most prominent between 1950 and 1980. Can you talk about your collection and perhaps the contemporary Greek music scene?
I have a music collection that thankfully covers a lot of genres, but the laïkó section is one I definitely feel proud of in terms of the possibilities it has opened to me as a listener.
For my generation, this music is a bit of a cultural taboo, considering it was mostly prominent, as you very rightly noted, in these years of political unrest. I find that there are many undiscovered areas that this genre has almost unintentionally revealed to me as a composer and an artist in general. The straightforward approach of the lyrics, the sublime simplicity of the music, the subject matter that draws inspiration from everyday life and its direct connection to the vast Greek musical tradition are some aspects of it that I find intriguing and worthy of further research and exploration.
Also, the fact that these composers and lyricists were almost forced to produce a hit song every week, their prolificity and talent, is to me an astonishing paradigm of what the human mind is capable of. Composers like Vasilis Tsitsanis, Apostolos Kaldaras, Akis Panou, and Mimis Plessas, to name just a few, are glowing examples of inbuilt creativity, artistic integrity and social struggle. They were what one would now call musical artisans, but they had a very centred and strong artistic voice that was there for the taking for generations to follow.
The contemporary music scene in Greece is not very interesting to me on the whole. There are a good number of musicians/bands/acts that do exceptional work, but the largest amount of musical production is a flattened attempt to copy what is happening abroad. It lacks identity, structure and ambition. It’s produced as a local version of a commodity. It’s normal in a small place and scene that it happens this way. Most western artistic production is merely a cultural appropriation but in Greece there is also the factor of a faultily functioning locality, where, for example, the local musical tradition is considered taboo therefore it never actively gets reapproached, or when it does, it’s merely a formalism. We never encountered the Enlightenment, the sexual revolution happened very late, punk rock too, so our approach to western culture was always that of the colonised, unable to overcome the western cultural embargo and guilty enough to admit to eastern cultural slavery. So, an identity that could be strong and prominent was lost within the references and low self-esteem of the creators.
The fact that there is absolutely no support from the state surely helps to create this lack of identity, but I think artists in Greece should start thinking in a more collective way and for reasons more important than just having a good time.
Or start being more like Vangelis 😉
In 2015, you started the Jay Glass Dubs project, in which you sort of deconstruct dub, which in a way is already a genre that favours recontextualisation. What led you to dub, as such, a genre with its own particular history and stylistics? Could you talk about your reinterpretations of it?
As a listener, I am of course interested in dub as a genre, but I wouldn’t say that as a creator it has influenced me more than, let’s say, post-punk or 70s prog rock or the laïkó that you referred to above. What I find really interesting and adventurous in dub music is the methodology; the process and approach.
This recontextualisation that you are speaking of is in the core of the genre’s own history, but is also a vital factor for the evolution of music in general.
What I am offering in this case is a certain counter-factuality. I’m stripping it of its historical importance and therefore reapproaching the formalistic elements that define it.
It’s a much broader experience than simply using the genre’s properties.
I like to see my work as a contextual discourse between myself and the history of music in general and not dub music specifically.
I am trying to create something that will be timeless. And to me, this timelessness requires the existence of a certain filament that connects disparate elements together in a way that may not be apparent directly or instantly. It takes a lot of work, knowledge and concentration from both the creator and the listener. To me, this thread is unravelled while the work is happening, it’s ongoing research and experimentation that keeps me interested and present in it and I want to maintain the same level of interest for the people who receive the music.
I like to see my process as an exhumation. If my head were a city, the music would come from a distant building while I sat next to some water. A nuance of a language that I am constantly learning.
How important are the specific dub techniques to you – dubplates, echoes, the studio as a tool?
Dub music was merely the result of a mistake in the studio and in time it overcame its own origins by reassociating them successfully in a certain part of history. I follow similar and quite simple properties in my work. There is a basic idea around which I set the tracks up, but it all develops through the use of time signatures as arbitrators and effect processing. I will record and/or sample slight segments of music and sounds, transform their presence into time and reapproach their form through effect processing. For me, the manipulation of the effects is a vital factor of the composition itself. Ι am not a trained musician in terms of academic experience, but I have been experimenting with recordings for more than 15 years now. I have solid studio experience since I have been releasing albums for a while.
The studio gives you the gift of time and constant real-time feedback in trial and error.
All the mistakes that happen, the ideas that turn out wrong and the technology that allows the user to accelerate their overcoming and find a solution are parts of the composition, and may or may not merit academic discourse as much as a traditionally composed piece of music would.
Your latest album Soma has the body at its centre. Can you talk about the concept and how you applied it to the music and the lyrics? (which I guess are not random samples, but specifically made for the album)
Soma was created through and in the aftermath of the hardship of a break-up that was traumatic for both myself and the person I was involved with. It was not only the break-up from a person but also a separation from a whole life that I had up to that point taken for granted and I had to change all my rituals and habits so I would avoid any awkward confrontation. I moved house, stopped hanging out with the same people, avoided certain streets etc. Of course, this psychological hardship affected my physicality as well. I had become this vessel that had no needs, no experiences and no position. I would stay inside for months, working on what would become this album. I would see very few friends and they were definitely worried about me. But this process was healing for me. While Soma was taking shape, my broken self-esteem re-emerged, and, combined with a reawakened sexual life and better exercise and nutrition, I started reclaiming my body and its position as a physicality within a space from which I had felt ostracised.
I know that is all might sound a bit annoyingly over-sensitive coming out of the mouth of a white cis male, but I was a mess, and through my work for Soma I allowed myself to enter a process that was both cathartic and therapeutic.
The music and lyrics speak of all this process; the fact that we decided to have all the songs in the first LP and all the instrumental music in the second LP is actually describing this passage from pain through trauma to redemption. In the first LP, the lyrics, the ones I wrote and, surprisingly to me, also the ones that Jasmine, Maria and Danai wrote for the songs they respectively sing, are very much connected to this process.
There are references to sexual frustration in ‘Apple, Sliced’ , ‘The Wrong Frame’ and ‘How Glass Bred’, social discomfort in ‘Dots On Nails’ and ‘Your Raps’ and escapism as a form of therapy in ‘Shape’ and ‘ Our Reversed Uniforms’. The second LP is much more social and optimistic despite its bleakness and darkness. The ideas developed here are strolling around my obsessions: jungle, traditional music, kraut rock and so many more. In a way, it’s more extroverted and danceable. In general, I wanted to make a record that has these two sides, that can provide an immense intimate listening experience but can also be danced to in a club (whenever that may be).
What are your current projects?
I am hopefully playing some sit-down, Shape-related concerts around safer places in Europe soon, if the situation allows. I recently finished a piece of new work to be released in winter, and am now working on new songs, most probably to be presented via the Wild Terrier outfit that premiered earlier in the year. Not the same artists in the line-up necessarily, I want to keep it open and, well, interchangeable. I am also participating in a series of online events with new work commissioned for a museum in Germany and a festival in France. Additionally, I have some really kind offers for releases that I hope I will be able to pull off, and the rest is as always unknown.
Interview: Lucia Udvardyova
Photo: Miles Opland